Archive for the 'books' Category

Small creative pursuits

It’s been quiet, creative-wise, around here. Due to lack of workspace and cat interventions, I’ve had to put aside some of my bigger projects (sewing machine repair so I can make a muslin, some of my painting), and focus on small things when I have time. While the cats sleep, I’ve found free time and space for:

  • Knitting washcloths
  • Stitching beads onto my counted cross-stitch kit
  • Working on the front of the Artisan’s Vest

And of course there’s reading. Current poetry book: Whereas: Poems by Layli Long Soldier. Long Soldier’s poetry is fascinating, and very different. I think I’ve reread “Steady Summer” multiple times. Link to the publisher’s page:

Here’s a taste from “Steady Summer”:

"... through half-propped 
windows I swallow
grass scent the solstice
makes a mind
wide makes it
oceanic blue ..." 

Some of the poems are hard to parse, more visual than lyrical. Other poems require me to look things up in history books, because I’m not familiar with Oglala Lakota background, environment (anything, really… and it’s my job to educate myself, since public school did not).

There have been brief travels, now that family are vaccinated, for quick visits. Seeing other environments has helped a little. And I went, fully masked, to see the Philadelphia Flower Show, which was outdoors (and kind of amazing). I’m trying to weigh what I’m comfortable with against what seems to be safe. It’s complicated…. I’ve also been limiting my time online (when not for work) and my time on Rav because I didn’t enjoy the headaches from the interface. Not sure if I will ditch my Rav account (I was one of the second wave of beta testers when the site went live). I think it depends on how weird that site gets.

So what are you reading or creating in your free time?

Revisiting Old Books

I’ve been slowly going through my old PieceWork magazines. Today I’m back visiting January/February 2005, reading “Frocks, Cloaks, and Pumpkin Hoods: Dressing for Winter in Nineteenth-Century New England”. It’s a great article. However, I’m amazed women survived going out wearing thin stockings, silk shoes that look like ballet flats, and low-necked coats. Most of the article’s clothing examples are from the early-19th century. And yes, there is an illustration of a pumpkin hood made of quilted black silk.

I’m inspired to re-read some of my Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, or Dickens novels. Will I feel like I can “see” the pictures created by the authors if I know what a pelisse looks like? Maybe not, but that time period may feel a bit more solid to me.

There are some great knitting patterns: an Old Shale shawl designed by Evelyn A. Clark, Danish wristlets designed by Nancy Bush, a bead-knit tank top designed by Lily M. Chin (daunting), and Selbu mittens that you knit and embroider, adapted from a design by Heidi Fossnes (not listed in Ravelry). I’ve been working on a red version of the Danish wristlets. Now that I’m on the second wristlet, the pattern seems easier. I may end up making a bunch of these for holiday gifting. If you do cross-stitch, the site has a free pattern of a heart with Quaker motifs for the month of February. Maybe a little late for Valentine’s Day planning, but something to consider for next year.

This edition of the magazine is still available for digital download, according to the Long Threads website.

Book thoughts

The last place I visited before the governor ordered everything* shut down was the neighborhood library. It’s a lovely space, with large ceilings and big windows (possibly it’s one of the libraries built on the Carnegie plan). It’s a lovely space, with just enough books to keep me busy. I returned a book, impulsively picked up a book (not a great one, it turns out), and then read the room.

Each librarian would work for a short while, then go to the back of the library to just breathe. When I got home, I heard the news that as of 5 o’clock, all restaurants, libraries, movie theaters, museums were officially closed. I suspect the librarians were waiting for the official news, but had to come in while police, trash collectors, and hospital employees were falling ill to COVID-19.

Things are opening up again, although the libraries and some yarn stores have curb side service only. I miss being in the space that libraries occupy, with each book a magic portal into someone else’s imagination. Currently, I order a book, and then get a call that they’re ready for me to come in. I set a time, and then call once I’m under a tent outside the front door. Then the librarian pops out, makes me state the last 4 digits of my library card, and places the book on a white table before running back indoors.

It’s challenging to buy or request a book unseen – I prefer leafing through them first. One of my friends asked why I don’t just download books onto my computer or a tablet, and… the computer is for work. I splurged on a ticket to virtually attend St. Hilda’s College Crime Fiction Weekend, because the topic was interesting — historical fiction and mysteries. I listened to authors talk about the research they did for their books, getting pointers and trying to decide which books weren’t too filled with the Midsummer Murders effect. I then researched which books were available from the library and which to buy from the venue. [The Mysteries Ahoy blog had an article about what it was like.] I hope that they hold it online and in person in the future, since cross-Atlantic travel for a conference requires vacation time. Would I rather visit Oxford to attend? Yes. Is that practical? Sigh. Maybe not very.

So, during this time of distance from bookstores and libraries, have you been researching books online, or getting recommendations from friends? I’ve been texting friends who knit, to find out what they think of yarn before I make an order. 🙂 Although right now I still have so much stocked in the house that I should be OK if I just knit what patterns and yarn I have.

* Except grocery stores, drug store, the post office, hospitals, construction places, and liquor stores.

Reading: Before the Feast

Some books live with me for a long time. They get free rental in the back of my mind, while I think them over. I think “Before the Feast” by Saša Stanišić will be one of those books. Foxes, wolves, characters who shift from the living to people living after death. Trickster characters, and others who seem to be tricking themselves. It’s a diverting read about an insular town where things happen, but not much changes.

After finishing the book, it felt complete, and yet there are open questions. What escaped from the archive? What will happen to all the people once the feast is set in motion? Who are the wolves and who is the narrator? And I think that’s why the book will continue to live with me. I’m still wondering why/what/when something happened, and I’ll probably re-read it in a month.

I tried the book first in the original German, slogged through surprising sentences, and then turned with relief to Anthea Bell’s translation. You can find the translation here: at Powell’s Books and at The Ivy Bookshop . Here is the book review (in English) that inspired me to seek it out: article by Christoph Schröder.

Like an Agatha Christie movie set

Photo of pink and white azalea shrubs under a white dogwood.
Spring is sprung

One neighborhood I take my walks in is filled with azaleas, blooming dogwoods, and green grass in front of Tudor row homes, or 1930s modern twins.

I chat with neighbors (they from their safety of their front stoops, and me on the broken sidewalk), comparing where their gardens are compared to last year. We’ve all agreed that it is too cold to put in tomato or pepper plants. Mostly, one gardener has said he’s waiting on the plants, but it’s too cold to plant them so he isn’t worried about the delay. Since I lack gardening knowledge, I agree because it’s easier.

On the other side of the street, wisteria blooms on an arbor, and the tulips bob on their stems, looking like colorful lollipops. I’ve seen white throated sparrows, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, and cowbirds. Squirrels race along fence posts. And everywhere, I have this uneasy feeling I just missed Hercule Point and Captain Hastings walking up a path and into one of the houses.

I’ve spent a little time wondering why I have so many Agatha Christie references on this blog. Perhaps it’s because I first read the books in my late teens? My favorite Agathas are any of the Tommy and Tuppence stories and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Any favorites on your shelf? I’m dipping my toe into eBooks, and considering what’s available and comforting.

Reading: Marianne Moore

My copy of Marianne Moore‘s Collected Poems comes from beloved uncle B, who was the chaplain when Moore received her Litterarum Humaniorium Doctor (L.H.D.) degree. His copy of the Convocation bulletin is tucked inside the book, which let me know Uncle B passed it on to me. I hadn’t thought modern poetry was his thing. Red convertibles, P.G. Wodehouse, fob watches and briar wood pipes are part of my jumbled memories of this kind minister, who always remembered my birthday.

I’m currently reading and re-reading the poem “Light is Speech”. Here’s a snippet:

“Yes light is speech. Free frank / impartial sunlight, moonlight, / starlight, lighthouse light, / are language. The Creach’h / d’ Ouessant light- / house on its defenseless dot of / rock is the descendant of Voltaire….”

Marianne Moore, “Light is Speech” Collected Poems.

It’s a complicated poem, and this snippet doesn’t do it justice. I’m not sure the poem is the right way up in my head, but it helps to ponder it while I try to stave off anxiety. I read a section of poetry, then I knit a few rows of a pretty plain sock. Fortified by this and tea, I check in on work invoices and hope things get better. If you wish to find a copy of the poem, I think it’s only in print. Here’s a WorldCat search for Marianne Moore’s poetry.

I hope things are getting better where you are, and that there’s a lighthouse of talk (with friends and family over the phone) to buoy your spirits and guide you to calm.

Facing overwhelmingness

snow drops for hint of spring

We’re all a little overwhelmed. My tipping point was trying to get in and out of a grocery store…. People 60 years and older were crowding against people. It was unsettling, after hearing all the warnings that healthy people could carry infection without symptoms.

I’d prefer kindness was catching, instead of the virus. We’re limited to waving at people across the street instead of running over to chat. I go for walks when the streets are quiet (it’s spring, and the sky is glorious). The churches are shut, with signs, but they have online services now. Things are better than they were in the past, but we’re still frozen looking at the tv or the online news, wondering what’s next. There’s even the eeriness of quiet streets and few planes.

Because I have the luxury of working from home, I’m not seeing as many people in real life – this is the whole point of social distancing. But it’s depressing: I like seeing people. I’m limiting trips to the shops for groceries. I’m calling relatives to see if they’re OK rather than driving over.

But there’s fun stuff: To keep myself from obsessing, I’m unplugging from social media in favor of reading poetry, walking around the block, knitting and watercoloring. I’ve been invited to a walk in a park, where I can be 6 feet away from friends, but still able to see each other. I’ve been discovering new recipes, which is fun. Current cookbooks on heavy rotation: Kimiko Barber’s Japanese Pure and Simple, Simon Bajada’s The New Nordic Cookbook and Rosemary Barron’s Flavors of Greece. I also have Julia Child’s two volumes, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and this might be the time to try a recipe. I hope you are finding a way to de-stress. Feel free to leave tips on how to practice kindness from a distance.

Reading: The Fountain of Highlandtown

I’m not sure I’ve discovered any character that is more conflicting than Basilio Boullosa from Rafael Alvarez’ book, The Fountain of Highlandtown. If you’ve read the book, do you agree? He’s not a Byronic hero or mean, but some of the stories made me shout “make better choices!” at the page.

Recently reissued as Basilio Boullosa Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown, this collection of short stories reads like a novel of loosely linked larger than life Baltimore chapters. Set aside your assumptions that this is The Wire. It’s more focused on miss-spent youth, the changing city; there are verbal flights of description that bring to life a quirky world of row houses, half-forgotten Polish churches, relationships that break and knit together, and the emotional tug between family: some who moved to the suburbs, some who stay in the city and some who come from the old country. Basilio is one of those artist scapegraces who roll from relationship to relationship.

Basilio’s artist studio is open to the stars, and Alvarez makes this detail believable and lyrical at the same time. Basilio is one of those scapegraces who roll from relationship to relationship. A small town Lothario with a talent for painting Elvis’ likeness on coins, Basilio leaves other character’s lives in his wake like flotsam in the Chesapeake. The first story begins with a boy’s love for the Beatles. The narratives end by Basilio reconnecting with a heavy-partying friend from his teenage days. There’s a lot of diverting, complicated, messy life in the middle.

Reading: No Time to Spare

By Ursula K. Le Guin. The subtitle is “Thinking about what matters”, and it’s a lovely conversation with the author. It’s been lovely to sit down for tea with this book, and hear discussions of her young cat, Pard.

“One moment he’s airborne, the next fast asleep. He is unpredictable, yet keeps strict routines…. He still won’t sit on a lap, though. I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis.”

Le Guin, “Chosen by a Cat”, published in No Time to Spare, 2017.

I’ve enjoyed reading through her thoughts on Notre-Dame de la Faim, modern classical music, and a Christmas tree. It’s all very unlike the stories I know her from [A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, Always Coming Home], and yet it is still the same voice. Which makes me wonder: are there any writers you have read whose voice carries across media (say, poetry to novels, or expository prose to mystery stories)?

Lots of rain equals

…lots of time for the cats. And also: opportunity for the crickets to escape the basement and become lots of toys for the cats. Altogether now: ick!


I am glad that we’ve had more than 2 days without rain. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to take walks without an umbrella or raincoat.

In book news, I’ve found a wonderful book on trees called Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo, with positively luminous closeup photographs by Robert Llewellyn of bark, leaves, fruit, acorns. Everything that’s inaccessible while you walk thru a city park with protective barriers around the trunks.

In other news, Inktober is in full swing, so I’m tweeting different pics. Not sure if I’m keeping Flickr in the sidebar, due to changes of service, so I haven’t been putting any images there. Let me know in the comments if I should, while I ponder other photo sharing services that will work with Ravelry, etc.


Flickr Photos